My experience with soccer culture in Brazil has expanded my outlook on the diverse nature of the sport. I grew up in the United States, but I am half Brazilian, and I’ve been to Brazil several times to visit family. Though I have spent a significant amount of time in Brazil, every trip is a cultural experience for me. I spent three weeks there, in December and January, visiting family and enjoying the coast of São Paulo. During this time, I played lots of pickup soccer, and visited O Museu do Futebol (The Museum of Football) at Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo.The first time I played pickup soccer after arriving in Brazil was at a cement futsal court near my grandparent’s house. I arrived to the court just as a new team was taking the pitch. Curious and eager to play, I asked if they had a spot for one more to join them. The response I got was, “Demorou,” which best translates to “I thought you’d never ask,” or “You should have asked earlier.” It’s basically a politely aggressive way of saying “Of course” and welcoming me into their pickup game. The group was made up of a mix of some younger guys in their twenties, and some middle aged guys. To be honest, I expected the level to be low. I was wrong. These guys weren’t there to mess around. The intensity and passion by which they played was invigorating. It felt like the game was do or die; players protected the goal like their life depended on it, and every missed opportunity was a dagger to the heart. Yet by the same token, they had a certain light heartedness that made it clear that this was a pelada.Pelada is the Brazilian name for pickup game, and it literally means “naked.” I don’t think there is a more perfect name for it. Pickup games literally strip the sport down to its core. People play out of pure enjoyment and passion for the game without all the business and money behind most sports today. In Brazil, peladas are more than a game. It is a culture unified by the sport of soccer, and a country that boasts the most international success in the history of the sport. The guys I played with were fanatics who had grown up with the sport. Their understanding of the game was developed through years of exposure. These guys were neither the most athletic guys, nor the most skilled, but they had a knack for the game. Playing in their pelada was a great way to discern how soccer is so engrained in Brazilian culture.Another memorable experience from my trip to Brazil was my visit to the Museu do Futebol. An idea of Pelé, the museum was created as homage to the strong history of football within the country. It is located inside the Pacaembu Stadium in São Paulo, a public stadium where many of the biggest teams in Brazil play. I expected a small museum with a couple small exhibits, but found it to be a complete experience and more. I took two hours on the tour, but felt like I could’ve spent the entire day there. There were entire sections devoted to old soccer photos, Brazilian superstars and heroes, multimedia sections with radio and television clips, world cups, records, the evolution of soccer equipment and rules, referees, fans, and much more. Frankly I overwhelmed because there was so much soccer left and right. The incredible thing is that the exhibit was primarily about Brazilian soccer, with only contextual references the rest of the world. It is amazing that the sport has so much history in Brazil. Playing soccer in Brazil has not only widened my worldviews, but also given me a unique look at the game itself. I believe that soccer is something universal enough to connect people throughout the world, and it also provides a special lens through which we can learn a lot about a culture.I was introduced to Senda at a small-sided soccer tournament in Berkeley, California, and I was immediately drawn to the company. I am an avid soccer player and fan. I think that the Fair Trade model is something to admire in any business, especially in a worldwide market like soccer. Brazil is a prime example of a culture with a love and passion for the game that also faces problems of poverty and extreme inequality. Senda promotes a higher standard for soccer products, and encourages the society and sport to be just at all levels. Fair trade is an opportunity for people to take responsibility and make positive change through a medium that can be universally understood.
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